• May 14, 2015

    Amuria TLT - Biblical Preaching

    I just finished a very tiring but wonderful week in Amuria for Timothy Leadership Training. We went through the Biblical Preaching manual.  Before I get into the details, I want to give you some encouraging reports from the last manual ("Overcoming Violence in the Family"), about how God used the pastors in their action plans. Part of the family violence manual was about the dangers of pornography. While giving reports, Pastor Andrew confessed that he had been looking at pornography but quit doing so after that TLT week. This confession got another pastor to open up...

  • May 13, 2015

    Discipleship as the Key to Growth

    What was the most important element of discipleship in my life? People spent intentional time with me. It was friendship, but also more. It was two people learning how to follow Jesus together. It was beautiful in its simplicity. It was natural. It also helped me grow deeper in the faith than I would have imagined. So, why does the Church at large not make discipleship our priority? We prefer planned and scheduled Bible study classes. We prefer fancy and attractive worship services. We prefer putting people to work within the Church and in building the Kingdom through occupations.

  • May 12, 2015

    I Prayed

    New York City may not be the most secular city around but like lots of this world’s larger cities, neither does it bristle with religious fervor. Bow your head to pray over your meal at Gramercy Tavern and you may find some fellow diners furtively glancing over at so curious a site. That’s why something my wife and I experienced a month ago was so striking. But first a little background. I visited Ground Zero along with my wife in mid-March 2002 on a Sunday morning. Just six months after the terrorist attack on 9/11, it was amazing how much of the site was cleared of debris.

  • May 12, 2015

    The Care Centre: What Am I Going to Say

    It is wonderful to be invited into people’s lives and their stories. I get to hear the challenges that they are facing and how they are facing them. I get to hear the joys of their lives and be there at precious moments. It is a privilege. But it’s not always clear, especially in times of suffering, what I should say. What will I say when I get to the hospital, the nursing home, the living room. Caring for others in these times can make us feel inadequate and I think that’s a good thing. Not knowing what to say is a good thing. Not knowing how this suffering might feel is a good thing.

  • May 11, 2015

    Boredom

    When was the last time you were bored? Not just starting the slide but well and truly tumbling down the boredom hill? The average cell phone user checks his or her phone 150 times a day. Average smartphone users spend 195 minutes a day on their device. Scientists and psychologists have released studies stating that our brains are actually undergoing transformation as a result of living in a time and society in which people have any number of distractions that keep them from having to rely on internal resources, devise their own activities...

  • May 11, 2015

    Keeping Silence

    I listen to books during my half-hour daily workout—and I love it.  A while ago it was Population 485, by Michael Perry, whose stories of small-town Wisconsin ring especially clear to those of us who grew up in Dairyland.  It’s a meditation, part Thoreau and part John Donne, even though Perry never talks much about his own practice of faith. One morning not long ago my t-shirt only half-soaked, Perry’s voice was rudely interrupted when another exerciser tuned the radio to Christian praise music—and cranked it way up, assuming we were all devotees...

  • May 11, 2015

    Why the Golden Rule is both Dysfunctional Tyranny and Invitation to Joy

    Every few months a friend of mine invites me to present Christianity in his class “Myth, Ritual and Magic” at the Art Institute of Sacramento. I love presenting in that context. The classes are filled with wonderful, interesting and diverse students. The student body is in fact so diverse there is little I can assume in terms of background knowledge. Most of the students in the class have little or no knowledge of the Bible. A highlight of the presentation for me each time is telling this group of people the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15.

  • May 11, 2015

    I Forget

    As human beings, we need to remember. It’s sometimes a matter of survival (like remembering that, yes, the stove is hot or don’t get too close to the bears at Yellowstone). I’ve been reading through the Old Testament a lot lately. One thing God keeps calling on His people to do is to remember. He wants them to not only remember His mighty acts of deliverance and rescuing them, He also wants them to remember how He is the one who provides for them as well...

  • May 11, 2015

    Unseen - But Very Real

    It seems to me that more of us are living for the “right here and right now” than used to be the case. Or maybe I’m just noticing it more. But chores around the house, carting kids to soccer, catching up on facebook seem to dominate many of our lives to the point where time cultivating a relationship with our unseen, but very present Father in heaven, gets relegated to tomorrow, which – as they say – never comes.

  • May 11, 2015

    Steps Towards Spiritual Growth? Try Again

    Ten steps towards spiritual growth.  A program of discipleship.  The sinner's prayer. I could go on and on. A model for church growth. Tell me how to inherit eternal life, the rich young ruler said to Jesus (Mark 10:17). A natural question, really. Isn't that what we want? Instructions!  Steps. A formula to follow. The older I get, the more I encounter the utter failure of programs and steps and models.  The world is so much more complicated, isn't it? Nothing works as it's supposed to. You try the steps and realize the heart of what you're after is still missing... 

  • May 6, 2015

    Why We Lead the Nation

    Yesterday, when we walked out of a room where my 95-year-old father-in-law had just had an eye exam, he wheeled his walker into a waiting-room area. To say the least, he's not quick on his feet. What's more, he needs at least four. But here's the point. When we got to the waiting area, a circle of other patients were already seated, leaving just a few open chairs. "Well, Jim," he said, "where would you like to sit?" It was a chore for him to get to the room, but when we got there the first thing he thought of was my convenience...

  • May 6, 2015

    Zoo Church Homework (and Stories)

    “Ask the animals what they think—let them teach you; let the birds tell you what’s going on. Put your ear to the earth—learn the basics. Listen—the fish in the ocean will tell you their stories. Isn’t it clear that they all know and agree that God is sovereign, that he holds all things in his hand—Every living soul, yes, every breathing creature?” (Job 12:7-10, MSG) Every animal that you’ve ever seen was held, sustained and designed by God. And they had stories to tell...

  • May 6, 2015

    The Transforming Effects of Jesus' Lordship

    Colossians is about one thing: the lordship and supremacy of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In Christ is All David Bryant suggests that the current malaise in the American church is a crisis of supremacy.  Folks, including most Christians, simply don’t appreciate Jesus for who he is and for all he is. His book is essentially a doxology to Jesus, urging Christians to rediscover the glory, majesty, authority, power, centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ. In our current sermon series on Colossians, we’re discovering this glorious Lord and Savior.

  • May 6, 2015

    The Care Center: What's in a Name?

    Think about it. God knows your name. Jesus knows your name—Jesus knows you. When Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine at the last supper you were in his mind—This is my blood, this is my body given for you Anna, Joshua, Michael, Jacqueline and the list goes on and on. This gives us a glimpse into the depth of God’s great care and comfort for us in and through Jesus, and it reveals to us the ways we are to care for one another— to know each other’s names. When we meet each other with the knowledge of who each other is we bring profound care and comfort.

  • May 5, 2015

    What Does Grace Look Like?

    When I read through Scripture, grace shows up as the big theme of God's relationship with us: forgiveness that we don't deserve and cannot earn, along with adoption into a world and life changing family. Yet as I read through Facebook, many Christian magazines and blogs, I wonder why grace is so often missing in our relationships with the world around us and with each other in the Christian family. What worries me the most is how ungracious behaviour within the church is justified...

  • May 4, 2015

    Remember

    Moses tells the people, “Re-orient your lives one day a week in order to remember. Remember what you were. Remember that you are so no longer. Remember what God has done.” But the people forgot to remember. Paul writes, at a much later date to a much similar people. People who also forget to remember. Paul writes, “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free! Stand firm then and do not let yourself be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Paul tells the people, “Re-orient your lives by the grace Christ has offered. Remember that you are set free in Christ.

  • May 4, 2015

    She's Not a Real Person

    I’ve met a number of women over the years that just don’t like Mother’s Day. I know that some look forward to it. Many have had great moms and to them it’s a day to honor them. And that’s awesome. I just know that for some it’s to them a reminder of their infertility, a day that tells them they are less than a woman because they don’t have children. It’s a day for children to relive bad memories of bad moms. It’s a day where moms miss their children gone too soon.

  • May 4, 2015

    Servant Speaking

    Throughout my life, I have heard many people offer speeches. I’ve heard good and bad, interesting, funny, too long, and too short speeches. I’ve heard skilled people speak and those who sounded like they had never spoken before. I remember the great speeches. They seemed well planned with little error or disruption. But I wonder if the speaker, while preparing his or her speech, ever thought: “I have to be the best servant speaker that I can be.” Yes, I said servant speaking. The phrase “servant speaking”, in my opinion, sums up the purpose of speaking.

  • April 30, 2015

    The Care Center: Steaming Cups of Chai

    I was a recent seminary graduate steeped in Biblical languages, systematic theology, and family systems theory. And here I was, visiting a family I who was working on learning survival English for shopping, transportation, and work. I couldn’t communicate all those things I had learned to them. At times it was frustrating to make awkward, sometimes mostly silent, visits over cups of steaming chai. But the smiles and hug the next time I saw the matriarch at church told me that my presence in her home was important to her...

  • April 28, 2015

    Church Cases

    We are near the end of the semester and my students in the Capstone Integrative Seminar are finishing their Case Study Portfolios–indeed, today I will be sending around these Portfolios to the panelists who will review them ahead of interviewing the students about their work. Each student received a ministry Case Study scenario at the end of March. Since then they have been analyzing the case from every possible biblical, theological, historical, and practical angle in order to come up with a wise, discerning pastoral approach to the situation.

  • April 28, 2015

    Book Review--Prairie, by Walter J. Muilenburg

    This year--this school year--three boys from Palo Alto High School, one of the nation's best secondary schools--walked across the street to the railroad tracks and stood in front of passing trains. Three kids, in Silicon Valley, where the average home is worth three million. Such suicide clusters are real, and they don't happen only where the pressures to succeed are mammoth...On one hand parents claim they're allowing their kids to just be kids, while on the other they hold relentless expectations...

  • April 27, 2015

    Enough

    “Moses said to them, ‘This is what the Lord commanded: “Tomorrow is to be a day of Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.”’ This is the first use of the word “Sabbath” in Scripture. It’s a whole new concept for Israel–for a people who have been barely even rescued from generations of slavery, for a people whose captivity has taught them the narrative, “you’ve got to scrabble for everything you’re going to get.”...

  • April 22, 2015

    Conventionality Is not Morality

    For Brontë, Austen essentially lacked passion. And though I think Brontë did not accurately assess the level of Austen’s critique, I can also understand why Brontë—raised on the wildly emotive Romantic literature of Byron and Coleridge—might have undervalued Austen’s more decorous barbs. More than that, I want to suggest that it might come down to a difference in the sense of being a Christian writer. Although both were daughters of clergymen, only Brontë explicitly saw herself speaking out of a prophetic tradition...

  • April 22, 2015

    The Care Center: A Sense of Eternity

    Before my wife and I partnered with CRWM and moved to Vienna I spent a little more than a year serving as a hospital chaplain. Most of this time I worked in the ICU and was an intimate witness to death most days of the week. It may sound strange to some, but it’s indeed a profound privilege to be an intimate witness to the death of a human being...

  • April 21, 2015

    "The Loss of Turtle Island"

    Last Sunday at a local church we learned something about Native American history in a simulation titled "The Loss of Turtle Island." As everyone knows, the winners gain the rights to tell the story. Most Minnesotans probably knew very little about the Dakota War of 1862 until the 150th anniversary just a few years ago, even though the massive bloodshed on both sides of that conflict created an event staggeringly important in the state's early history. Most of us would rather not know those things...

  • April 21, 2015

    Participating, not Initiating

    When it comes to sharing the Good News, I’m tempted to think that I’m the one who’s supposed to make people interested in Jesus and matters of faith. Believing that, however, betrays how I think I’m more important than I really am! Yes, God uses me and you to do important work in his Kingdom, but he’s always a step ahead of us – getting us ready and preparing situations for our arrival on the scene... 

  • April 20, 2015

    Delight

    “God saw all that he had made and it was very good.” God is on a roll. God is on a six-day winning streak. Firing on all cylinders. Making this. It’s good. Making that. It’s good. Boom, boom, boom. I can’t speak for you but when I’m (very rarely) in that kind of space, in the middle of good work, my impulse is to keep going. Why would I rest if I’m not burned out? Why would I rest if I’m not tired. Why would I rest if I have strength and power and ingenuity to keep going? So then why did God stop? Why did God survey a six-day marathon of epic goodness and go, “Yup. That’s good.

  • April 20, 2015

    Marriage is Business!

    Life is always an adventure here and I'm often perplexed by the ministries God calls me to be a part of in Soroti.  On Saturday I was asked to come and guide a church on Biblical Business and Marriage.  At first I was confused about how those two things go together, but it was so cool to see how God orchestrated a one day marriage seminar, under the guise of Biblical Business. We began the day by looking at people who are successful in business. And why?! And then we discussed people who are successful in marriage and why. Businesses need good foundations...

  • April 17, 2015

    Rhetoric

    What she told me--and what I never forgot--was how what she was taught affected what she was. Her parents were pure Zuni, in thought and culture and religious practice. Therefore, going to a Christian school meant she had to unlearn almost forcibly what her Christian teachers taught her. And that was difficult. It was, in fact, traumatic, not because she had to shift priorities and allegiances (that too!), but because she simply loved her parents...

     

  • April 15, 2015

    Forgiveness

    So I don't know Gunter Grass or his work, despite my Ph.D., in English, despite teaching lit for forty years, despite being surrounded this morning and every morning by books. What I know of him is his name, his Nobel prize, and the incredible scandal of his 2006 confession that he--Germany's most prophetic voice--was a member of the SS during WWII. He was among Hitler's most loyal beasts, a fact he'd tried for most of his life to keep buried. Coming clean just about ruined him, as well it should have...

  • April 15, 2015

    Trusting vs Glory-Seeking

    How many times do we try to seek glory but hedge our bets because we’re not willing to fully trust in God? How many times do we try to hedge our bets instead of using what we’re given to serve God? We’ll do something if we think we can succeed, but we’re not willing to put all we have on the line to serve God. There are many times where we hold back (me included) in fully giving ourselves to serving God. We wonder what others might think. We wonder what will happen if we fail. We get afraid and hedge our bets...

  • April 15, 2015

    Sailing the Wind of the Spirit

    In my 25 years of being a believer in Christ, I have heard many appeals that demand I grow in maturity. I have been told by folks directly, and I have felt their unspoken attitude that demands I grow. I have also been loved well by individuals who encouraged me to grow deeper and in my personal holiness. The problem is that all to often I have not been told how to do it. I find this frustrating. I know many of you do also. Let me share what I have learned about growing in holiness...

  • April 13, 2015

    Each Sunday a Little Easter

    After a season of penitence and preparation, the church knew that one feast day of celebration wasn’t going to cut it. They gave us a whole season! Then they supplemented the Jewish practice of Saturday Sabbath with a decidedly Christian practice of Sunday celebration. The Jewish Saturday Sabbath commemorates the 7th day of creation on which God rested. It is a day given to us for rest and the enjoyment of creation. The Christian “Lord’s Day” commemorates the 8th day of creation. A day given to us for the celebration of Jesus own death and resurrection.

  • April 13, 2015

    Billy Graham

    It’s fair to say that America’s Pastor airs every significant encomium, criticism, and summary judgment made of Billy Graham over his 60-year career, and that it comes down on the positive side of the balance sheet at every legitimate opportunity. The book measures Graham by his intentions, context, and public record, and finds him on balance to have been a good and decent man, preaching the Gospel with clarity and integrity to the vast mass of ordinary American people—and to millions more around the world. Grant gives close analysis of Graham’s more controversial aspects...

  • April 9, 2015

    He is Risen! Now What?

    When I was young, I enjoyed reading “choose your own adventure” books.  After every page or two you get a couple of options: if the characters take the road to the left, turn to page 2 or if the characters take the road to the right, turn to page 8.  Each book contains many stories, and depending on the choices you make you get different endings. The gospel of Mark’s account of the resurrection (Mark 16:1-8) feels something like a choose your own ending.  It doesn’t feel quite finished...

  • April 9, 2015

    A Widow's Ducks

    She’s caring for her daughter’s baby and for her aging mother. Her husband left her for another woman, effectively leaving her a widow. How can she earn her own livelihood, as a poor widow in northern Bangladesh? Well, it turns out that Bangladesh has a lot of water.  Many ponds last through the dry season and are replenished by the monsoon rains. And, there is a special kind of duck, that lays up to 300 eggs a year... 

  • April 8, 2015

    Reflections on Spring Break: Getting a Glimpse of Gospel Power

    Chipped paint. Water damage. Trash strewn about. Barred windows and barbed wire fencing. This was what the house on Grenada Street was like. But it could have described a number of the houses in the West Jackson neighborhood. West Jackson is a broken neighborhood that has been “marred by poverty, crime and unemployment,” and faces “chronic economic and social challenges.”1  It is a neighborhood without a sense of community, a sense of worth, a sense of hope.

  • April 7, 2015

    Adventures of the Floyd River Gang

    Last October, they'd put it up on the north side of the Puddle Jumper, a brush-y mess that left a corner of some guy's cornfield under water and turned a perfectly ordinary piece of ground into ducky wetland. On our daily constitutionals, we watched the water come up until one day--voila!--the whole ungainly mess was gone, wiped out.  Farmer John or Ed or Arie had taken his John Deere out and put the beavers out of work. You can't have a gang of rodents ruining harvest, for pity sake...

  • April 7, 2015

    Reflections on Easter 2015

    Easter, which celebrates Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead, is Christianity's most important holiday. Easter is a time for reflections: on the past, the present, and the future. I did that again this year, after an unusual (at least for me) and an unholy (for many) Holy Week. The past for me was remembering many deaths during the past year. I lost several friends and acquaintances, as you no doubt did too. I also lost my mother, who died the week after Easter last year. The memory of Easter sustained and comforted my family at the time...

     

  • April 6, 2015

    The Empty Tomb (Apparently is Not Enough)

    We tend to think of Easter morning as a joyful, blessed morning as Mary and the other women visit the tomb, discover it is empty and run to tell the disciples the "Good News." We imagine scenes of celebration, and shouts of joy as his followers proclaim that "He is risen!!!" We have been lured into thinking that it was only Thomas who was the classic example of doubt and unbelief regarding the news of the resurrection when he said: "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were..."

  • April 6, 2015

    Saturday of Harrowed Hearts

    Holy Saturday is the most in-between place of all, though, because even the scriptural drama holds its breath. There’s nowhere to place ourselves, only silence. The disciples and the women “rested according to the commandment,” says Luke (23:56), and that’s all we know. Jesus is in-between, too, between the burial and the rising, silent in the grave. As Gregory Anderson Love wrote this past Sunday, recent theology has attempted to grapple with the idea that the second person of the Trinity, from Friday afternoon...

  • April 6, 2015

    Creation Care in India

    Sense of place. Caring for the spot of the Earth that  the Lord gave your family. Making it a better than when you started. That’s a feeling many have but don’t know how. Sometimes they are too poor to even own the land they farm. That’s the case of many farmers in NE India. In their traditional way they would cut the trees, plant for a couple of years, and then let the forest grow back...

  • April 1, 2015

    In the Shadow of the Cross Is Shalom

    Restorative justice is not just for people in prison. It’s a worldview for every person for whom Jesus died. Recently on a Crossroad Connection TV episode, I interviewed Teresa Weatherall Neal, the superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools, who discussed actions she is taking to employ restorative justice rather than retributive justice within the public school system. In her experience, restorative justice practices transform students through fostering conflict resolution.

  • April 1, 2015

    Holy Week--Psalm 118 for Easter

    For 500 years "De steen die door de tempelbowers" was sung first crack out of the box at Easter morning worship, or so says Sietze Buning in Purpaleanie. Seriously--500 years. First thing. Easter morning. It's a line from Psalm 118 at a time when Dutch Calvinist churches sang nothing in worship but psalms. Once a church like Middleburg, Iowa, found itself on the emerald edge of the North American Great Plains, however, even 500-year old traditions began to die.

  • March 31, 2015

    Christ-Centered: Who Would Jesus Center? WWJC? (part 2)

    If Jesus places into the center those on the periphery, and removes himself from the center, maybe once again we are left with needing to reconsider the term "Christ-centered."  Christ clearly wants others to be the center and not himself.  If we are to follow Jesus being "Christ-centered" might not be a very good goal.  Can we wrap our minds around the idea that Jesus does not want to be the center? How often do we seek to place in the center ourselves and our needs?  If we are honest, are we looking out for others our ourselves as we go through the world?...

  • March 31, 2015

    Doing Justice with Ex-offenders

    He was released from prison at the discretion of the parole board and a judge. Like so many others, his freedom was short-lived. Six months after his release, he went on a crime spree, robbing a number of gas stations and convenience stores at gunpoint, a gun that turned out to be a BB gun. What happened? Without even reading on I knew. He simply couldn’t survive on the outside. While he is culpable for his actions, it is hard for me not to wonder what society, especially the church, could have done to help...

  • March 31, 2015

    Joseph 4: "Haunted"

    One of the things that makes the story of Joseph so appealing and memorable is how the people in it change. In my message yesterday, we saw how Joseph’s brothers are confronted with the opportunity to do the same thing to Benjamin as they did to Joseph. Years before, Joseph’s brothers abandoned him when they sold him as a slave and now they have the opportunity to also ditch Benjamin in Egypt. This option is presented to them by the Egyptian governor as a quick and easy way to solve their problems and head back home to Canaan.

  • March 30, 2015

    Are We "Salty" to the Lost?

    In Luke 15, Jesus declares the heart of God for the lost. With the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost sons, Jesus declares God great concern and pursuing love for the lost. What is often missed is how he concludes what we read as Luke 14.  "Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall it be restored?" What is he talking about?...

  • March 27, 2015

    Pray for Us to Be Patient

    Just because we are missionaries, we are not perfect. We are far from it. Particularly, I need to learn patience. Things that have been trying my patience in the last few months: - People demanding that we give them our dog, or give them money, when they see us walking or see us in town. Often they demand this rudely without even greeting us first. What would be extremely offensive to do to another Ugandan, they seem to think is okay to do with us because we are foreigners...

  • March 25, 2015

    Making Space

    I’ve been thinking a good deal of late about how we give “space” as a gift to each other. In a society that crowds and over-connects, that resists solitude, perhaps it’s difficult for us to not believe that the solution to every situation, especially painful ones, isn’t more togetherness. And that certainly has a very important function. But I think it also sometimes leads us to wrongly believe that it is our presence that is doing the ultimate work of healing and transformation...

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